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This blog has been sadly neglected of late, as a return to grad school and a sudden job offer in publishing necessitated two cross-country moves in 12 months. But I couldn’t miss out on posting for International Translation Day, even if just to post a list of some of my favourite translations in recent (and not so recent!) years. I’ll stick with perhaps some lesser known authors and mainly indie presses. There’s some linguistic variety here (Korean, Turkish, Norwegian, French, Italian, Czech, Bulgarian, Icelandic, Russian, Angolan Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish…), but I’m doing this without the benefit of having my bookshelf nearby (sadly it is 4,000 km to the left of me), so these are the off-the-top of-my-head, less-obvious picks (besides the usual faves Borges, Saramago, Gogol, Kafka… you know the drill), and I’m certainly forgetting some great reads. Feel free to comment and recommend some of your own faves to me, as I do love an infinite TBR list!

  1. Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco (McSweeney’s)
  2. No One Writes Back by Eun-Jin Jang (Dalkey Archive Press)
  3. The Man Who Walked Through Walls by Marcel Aymé (Pushkin Press)
  4. The General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa (Archipelago Books)
  5. The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto (Biblioasis)
  6. Collected Stories by Clarice Lispector (New Directions)
  7. Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque (Grove Press)
  8. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold (Dalkey Archive Press)
  9. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (Harcourt)
  10. Varamo by César Aira (New Directions)
  11. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
  12. The Garden of the Departed Cats by Bilge Karasu (New Directions)
  13. The Goddess of Fireflies by Geneviève Petterson (Esplanade)
  14. Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki (Biblioasis)
  15. Life Embitters by Josep Pla (Archipelago)
  16. The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (Biblioasis)
  17. The Club of Angels by Luis Fernando Verissimo (New Directions)
  18. Eleven Prague Corpses by Kirill Kobrin (Dalkey Archive Press)
  19. Circus Bulgaria by Deyen Enev (Portobello)
  20. The Blue Fox by Sjon (FSG)
  21. The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (Penguin Classics)

2015 Wrap

This blog has been on an unexpected hiatus for most of the year due to some significant life changes, including leaving my job to return to school; moving my library (and myself) 1200 kilometres to the left; adapting to a new city; and struggling with being on the learning side of the lectern for the first time in a decade, surrounded by people 15 years my junior. The pace of this new program is such that I have no time for pleasure reading, but the few books that I have managed to squeeze in this year have included some great ones, and I want to share them with you.

My first read of 2015 is still my favourite read of the year: Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead. Dark, macabre, funny, and sad. A remarkable book. I also read Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter, which I enjoyed, but which was much darker in tone.

Here are my top 10 reads of the year:

  1. Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead – Barbara Comyns (Dorothy Project)
  2. The Dig – Cynan Jones (Coffee House Press)
  3. H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Hamish Hamilton)
  4. Beatlebone – Kevin Barry (Doubleday)
  5. The General Theory of Oblivion – José Eduardo Agualusa (Archipelago Books)
  6. Uprooted – Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  7. The Story of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
  8. Beauty Secrets of the Martyrs – Verity Holloway (Invisible Milliner)
  9. The Beautiful Bureaucrat – Helen Phillips (Henry Holt)
  10. Life Embitters – Josep Pla (Archipelago Books)

I had grand plans to read many more (and bigger) books this year, but life got in the way of that, so here are a few of the books that I wasn’t able to get to that will be first on my list when things slow down (hopefully) in May. I’ve read enough of the opening chapters to know I’ll enjoy them, but couldn’t immerse myself in the act of reading the way I like to, what with my mad schedule, so they all had to be postponed so I can give them the reading they deserve:

  1. Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
  2. The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma
  3. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
  4. The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. Blood-Drenched Beard – Daniel Galera
  6. Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt
  7. The Vorrh – Brian Catling
  8. The Incarnations – Susan Barker
  9. Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
  10. The Wilds – Julia Elliott

I wish all of you the best in the coming year. May you have ample reading time and a TBR list full of fantastic books!

 

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Last year, as you may recall, I let loose a rather impassioned rant about the Man Booker International Prize. Well, it appears that someone somewhere heard my cries. The Man Booker International Prize short list was announced today, and it is a thing of beauty. Of the 10 finalists, 8 are authors who write in languages other than English, and TWO of the authors (Couto and Aira) actually appeared as suggestions in my original angry post. (Coincidence? I think not!) So, I’m totally taking the credit for the fact that this year we have the pleasure of being introduced to more non-English writers, less familiar names, and I’m pleased that even the names I’m already familiar with aren’t really household names and are entirely deserving of a more global readership. Deep gratitude goes to the judges this year for saving a prize that I had almost given up on! Well done Marina Warner, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank, and Wen-Chin Ouwang. You have redeemed the Man Booker International Prize, and brought English readers a treasure trove of new authors to explore. I look forward to reading books from each of the authors on this short list, and am actually excited for an award announcement for the first time in a very long time!

The Man Booker International prize short list, with some notes on what I’ve got on the shelf. I’m so excited to have new authors to discover!
• César Aira (Argentina) – My favourite (so far) is Varamo, but really, anything Aira writes is gold.

• Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

• Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)

• Mia Couto (Mozambique) – My favourite is The Last Flight of the Flamingo, and I’m looking forward to getting to The Tuner of SIlences.

• Amitav Ghosh (India) – The Sea of Poppies sits on my shelf, waiting for me to have time…

• Fanny Howe (US)

• Ibrahim Al-Koni (Libya)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) – I’ve read bits of The Melancholy of Resistance and it is amazing, but then, I haven’t had the time to tackle Satantango yet, which I hear is a masterpiece…

• Alain Mabanckou (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – I’ve had Broken Glass on my TBR since 2010, but have yet to order it in. That makes it #1 on the pile.

• Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I would like to recommend 25* (okay, now 30 because I decided to add non-fiction and poetry) of my favorite women writers from around the globe:

Jang Eun-Jin – No One Writes Back

Barbara Comyns – Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric

Assia Djebar – A Sister to Scheherazade

Elizabeth McCracken – Thunderstruck and Other Stories

Fatima Mernissi – Dreams of Trespass

Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours; The Horseman’s Graves; A Hard Witching and Other Stories

Ahdaf Soueif – A Map of Love

Mary Swan – The Boys in the Trees

Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd

Nuala Ní Chonchúir – Mother America

Kjersti Skomsvold – The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am

Alissa York – Effigy

Park Wan-Suh – Lonesome You

Tiffany Murray – Diamond Star Halo; Sugar Hall

Aglaja Veteranyi – Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation

Clarice Lispector – The Hour of the Star; A Breath of Life; The Foreign Legion

Lucy Wood – Diving Belles and Other Stories

Nawal El Saadawi – God Dies by the Nile

Kate Atkinson – Life After Life

Anna Gavalda – I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere

Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni

Kiran Desai – Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

Karen Russell – St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half a Yellow Sun

Missy Marston – The Love Monster

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist

Leslie Jamison – The Empathy Exams

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In an attempt not to bail on my “post regularly” resolution a mere 25 days after the resolution post, here’s an update on what I’ve been reading and how my read slow / read big project is coming along (spoiler alert: it’s not):

In January, I truly believed my work schedule for this semester would allow me to take things slow and read big. Boy was I wrong. After my last post, things suddenly picked up with editing/proofreading work, which is great, because that helps with another of the resolutions! However, my “leisurely” reading time has all but evaporated. I now only read for pleasure on the bus to and from work.

What I Read

Even though I’ve not been able to read “big” I’ve managed to squeeze in 4 shorter reads so far this year (not counting work reads). I just finished reading Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (Groundwood), a YA graphic novel that won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration. The artwork is beautiful and evocative, and the story is insightful. The graphic novel captures that difficult moment between childhood and teenage years when there is a dreadful “inbetween-ness” that sometimes separates kids from their parents and their friends, and sometimes even their own understanding of themselves and their own behaviour. Some of those problems stem from an awareness and a desire to appear more “grown-up” and deal with “grown-up” things, but not having all the information or the emotional capacity to cope with the fall out/consequences. The story deals with several complex and difficult issues with a light, non-preachy touch, and is compulsively readable. 4 stars.

Simon Rich’s collection of short stories, Spoiled Brats (Little, Brown), has some absolute gems in it, but I found more misses than hits in this collection. Rich is certainly clever, and I can see him developing into a great comic writer, but at this stage I found the comparisons to Woody Allen to be off the mark. However, there are 5 or 6 stories in this collection that had me in stitches: “Sell Out” and “Animals” and were among the best and show his potential for humour and depth. The less impressive ones were entertaining but without staying power. Worth picking up for “Sell Out” and “Animals” alone, but expect more and better from Rich as he develops over the next few years. 3.5 stars.

I was enamoured of Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper (dorothy) for the first third of the book and a small section near the end. I loved the prose, but found myself tiring of the selfishness of the characters, and struggled to get through the last two thirds of the book mostly because of my own reactions to those characters and their lack of (or willful blindness to) self-awareness, and their narcissism. However, I will certainly be watching out for Nell Zink’s next book, because she is clearly a talent to be watched. 3.5 stars.

My first read of the year was also one that has already made my “Best Reads of the Year” list, which is a hell of a feat. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (dorothy) is darkly hilarious, macabre, and moving. The Willoweed family, an aristocratic family on the decline, must deal with first a flood, and then a mysterious plague of madness and death that sweeps through the village. Both the events and their consequences change the family forever. My only problem was that I felt as though the ending rushed a bit (or perhaps the problem is that I just didn’t want the book to end). 4.5 stars.

Currently Reading: Eric Lundren’s The Facades (Overlook)

I’ve also decided to let you folks know what books I buy, because if I buy something, I’m confident I’ll get around to reading it someday, and I’m also confident that I will enjoy it enough to own it forever (because I only ever get rid of duplicates). So, here’s a new little segment:

Newly Shelved But Not Yet Read (Jan/Feb)

I am Radar – Reif Larsen (Penguin)

Welcome to Braggsville – T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow)

Get in Trouble – Kelly Link (Random House)

Blood-Drenched Beard – Daniel Galera (Hamish Hamilton)

And the Birds Rained Down – Jocelyne Saucier (Coach House)

Works – Edouard Leve (Dalkey Archive Press)

Fancy – Jeremy M. Davies (Ellipsis)

Of Things Gone Astray – Janina Matthewson (The Friday Project)

The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane (Penguin)

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

When Mystical Creatures Attack! – Kathleen Founds (U Iowa P)

The Land of Laughs – Jonathan Carroll (Viking)

Hotel Andromeda – Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty (Norton)

Silver Screen Fiend – Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Every Blade of Grass – Thomas Wharton (self published)

The Librarian – Mikhail Elizarov (Pushkin Press)

The Voyage – Murray Bail (MacLehose)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne Valente (Square Fish)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Knopf)

In other news, at this pace, I will have to declare bankruptcy by the end of the second quarter. Until I typed those all up, I did not realize there were that may new books in the apartment, because they are scattered in so many different rooms. Wow. Well, at least it’s not heroin, I guess.

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015! I took the month of January off from the blog (unannounced, apologies for that) to rest, regroup, and reconsider a number of things related to my reading life. So, in this first post of the new year, I thought I should identify some changes I am hoping to make this year, for my blog and my life. Here are four to begin with:

#1 – SLOW DOWN: I’m tired of rushing. I want to take time and savour some longer novels that I have been putting off because I knew they’d eat into my time for other books and that would impact my annual reading goal. So, I’m cutting my reading goal by more than half. I’m only aiming to read 20 books this year (assuming, of course, that I will read more, but not pressuring myself to do so). I also read for two of my day jobs, so it becomes more difficult to find time to read for fun, especially if I have to take work home. So instead of reading more, I’m hoping to read bigger and at a more leisurely pace.

*NOTE: Since starting the draft of this post, I discovered the tragic flaw in this cunning plan to read bigger: that 500 page book is just not convenient to read on my commute because it doesn’t fit in my purse, and it’s bloody heavy, and it’s awkward as arse. So, my new plan is to leave the big reads at home for bedtime reading, and carry a small book for commutes.

#2 – Write more blog posts more regularly and with more variety. I would like to post more about what I read (instead of just end of year recaps), make nerdy lists with commentary about books I’ve read, post short reviews, and write about bookish things that I find interesting or problematic. Not just to be negative for negativity’s sake, but to bring issues that I have with contemporary reading culture out into the light to perhaps encourage debate about them in a civil way. For example, the rush to speed market books on social media when what a book really needs is time to find its audience; the importance of the “critical” in literary criticism and reviewing; the superficial way sites deal with books reviews/recommendations (the dreaded listicle or capsule cheerleading post); the reasons I find the campaigns for diverse reading so sad (but of course, necessary), etc. So, in the coming months, there may be some changes happening with the blog content. With this, there is likely to be some growing pains, as I try to find ways to keep things organized. Please bear with me!

#3 – Boycott Amazon for book buying: I am tired of the big bad wolf and the negative way it has impacted the entire book industry (and I’m tired of the people who continue to support it when there are so many other viable options out there). I’ve always supported local independent bookstores first (and am happy to order books in and wait a few weeks), and only ever used the big bad when I had no other option for books I needed quickly or books that were not available in Canada. I’ve now decided that those are no longer good excuses, so I won’t be spending my dollars at Amazon or Book Depository anymore. Instead, I will be exercising patience and ordering books in from my local independent bookshop, Audrey’s Books, or All Lit Up for Canadian titles, and from Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway for my UK/Irish titles. I have also started ordering books directly from the publisher and have already received fantastic books from dorothy, a publishing project, and Pushkin Press. I know that Amazon is pervasive and has its fingers in many pies (Goodreads included). I do eventually want to extract my self from Amazon’s clutches entirely, but as someone who grew quite dependent on Goodreads for tracking books for my TBR list (that now has over 1400 titles on it), un-Goodreading that information will take a lot of time that I just don’t have right now. So, my TBR shall remain where it is, but my shopping is now Amazon free.

#4 – Begin seeking out a publishing job in earnest. I don’t often discuss my personal life on this blog, but since this goal is related to my reading life, and since this is a long-held dream of mine that perhaps I need a little push to chase, I shall post it here. I have spent the last couple of years as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, and have been lucky enough to do work for two excellent independent publishers that publish a lot of fiction in translation. I have loved every minute of it. Now is the time to be brave and make a move toward finding a more permanent, full-time position (or at least a steady contract work) so that I can leave my current day job behind (which has been rewarding, but is not my calling). I am not a writer and harbor no delusions of becoming one, because I lack the talent. I have only ever wanted to be an editor, and now is the time to start down that path (well, 20 years ago would have been the time, but as a kid from the prairies, I didn’t know that was a career option!). So, by this time next year, with anyone out there who reads this to hold me to it, I will have set some plan in motion to get myself a job in publishing – whether that be going back to school for another Masters degree (in publishing this time), or finding an entry level job at a publishing house. Hooray! I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up.

I have other resolutions in mind for the year, but I think four is quite enough to be cracking on with. I hope you all have set yourselves a reading resolution for the new year, whether it be to read more, read slower, read aloud to your kids, read a book by someone who doesn’t look like you, read a book translated from another language… Whatever it is, use your resolutions to open your horizons.

I’ve decided to do a top 20 fiction list this year with 6 additional books in other categories (a children’s book, 3 non-fiction, and 2 graphic novels).The fiction list is split into halves:
THE TOP 10 (in no particular order, because frankly they each have their individual charms)

These were my 10 favourite reads of the year. Some of them were published in 2014, some not.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco: A quiet but incredibly powerful book (a pair of linked novellas). The prose is lovely and deceptively simple. It is like looking into a pool of crystal clear water. You can see the bottom, but once you dive in you realize it is much deeper than it appears to be. It is the story of a writer vows to never write another book, and instead becomes a copyist, producing intimate “portraits” of people in writing.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: A book I regret not reading sooner, but that I doubt I would have appreciated had I read it sooner. A near perfect book read at the perfect time.

No One Writes Back by Jang Eun-Jin: One of the Library of Korean Literature titles from Dalkey Archive Press that (full disclosure) I edited while working in Dublin as an unpaid intern there. This was my favourite of the series of 10 Korean novels that I edited. It is an unusual and moving story about the need for communication and connection and the ways we cope with tragedy and grief.

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant: I loved this book about an indifferent rent collector who is unable to remain indifferent to the suffering of his tenants and embarks upon a comical and desperate scheme to improve their lives.

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken: Hands down, my favourite short story collection of the year. Each story revolves around grief, loss, and ways in which the ripples from those emotions affect others.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: My description of this book to friends is mostly expletives followed by, “Just buy it.” Authority is also awesome and I’m sure the entire Southern Reach Trilogy would be on this list, but the flu kept me from getting to Acceptance, so I’ll just put the first book on here and let you discover the rest on your own.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Intense, terrifying, moving, imaginative. Basically, it is Gaiman. Just read it.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli: Polyphonic and fragmentary. Narrative worlds weave in and out of one another in surreal ways. A woman in Mexico City writing about her past in New York and about an obscure poet from the 1920s, Gilberto Owen, who comes to life through her reflections. Masterful. Excellent translation.

Sweetland by Michael Crummey: A story about landscape, identity, community, and the tragedies and truths that shape our lives set on an island off the Newfoundland coast. Also about the things we can’t leave behind. Funny, haunting.

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki: The story of a small Angolan beach community threatened with destruction by the Soviets for the sake of the construction of a monument to a dead dictator. Contains a memorable cast of characters: the children with a cunning plan, a mad Cuban called Sea Foam, a ghost, a lovesick Russian, and a gangrenous granny, among others. Excellent translation by Stephen Henighan.
The Next 10 (again, in no particular order)

I read too many really good books this year to limit myself to a top 10, so here’s the next 10 good reads on my list.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker: Atmospheric, creepy, and elegantly told tale of Arthor Crandle, a fellow down on his luck who takes a position as an assistant to none other than H.P. Lovecraft., the godfather of weird fiction.

A Fairy Tale by Jonas T. Bengtsson: An intense and moving story of a father-son relationship. The imagery is incredibly vivid and almost magical realist or fabulist in the first half of the book. The narrative shift in the second half changes the tone but manages to maintain the tension in the narrative. Excellent read, excellent translation.

Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes: Another book that’s been around for ages, but that I’m only getting to now. I’ve worked my way backwards through Rhodes’ catalogue and can say with confidence that no one can write about the macabre and the melancholy with such humour and wit. Ultimately, Rhodes writes about love, and ultimately, his books are uplifting, but prepare to have your heart broken in the process. (You will also laugh, and cry, and probably chuck the book against the wall. This is all normal.)

The Martian by Andy Weir: Think MacGyver and Castaway and Apollo 13. Space is awesome. Stylistically, the prose is not going to blow you away, but somehow that doesn’t even matter. The story is so compelling and so cool, because space is cool, and NASA is cool, and Mars is cool, that you won’t be able to stop reading.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: Post-war Welsh-English border. Country estate. One terrifying ghost. Tiffany Murray is an excellent storyteller. I may never forgive her for the moth thing though.

A by André Alexis: A book reviewer from Toronto obsessed with an elusive poet tracks him down in an attempt to understand the creative act. The meeting of critic and artist/hero changes both lives and provides an interesting read/meditation on inspiration and literary creation.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Structurally very innovative. Incredibly moving. Looking forward to A God in Ruins which continues Teddy’s story.

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill: Portrait of a marriage in vignettes. Moving and insightful.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher: Hilarious (but also painfully close to the mark) academic satire told entirely in the letters of reference from one faculty member at a small college. I laughed a lot.

The Age of Magic by Ben Okri: While this novel left me colder than some of Okri’s other works, it is full of ideas and Faustian allusions, and some of the passages in the middle of the book are quite marvellous.

The Children’s/YA Book (but awesome for everyone even grown-ups; start with the first in the series)

I usually read a few more children’s or young adult books, but for some reason or other, I just ran out of time this year. I do have a couple of Jonathan Auxier’s books on my nightstand though, and they look great. However, I think everyone should read the Iremonger trilogy because it is the best. THE. BEST. (Which is saying something, because it currently only has two books in it).

Best. Kids' Series. Ever.

Best. Kids’ Series. Ever.

Foulsham (book 2 of the Iremonger trilogy) by Edward Carey (or, if you live in North America, Heap House (book 1 of the Iremonger trilogy), which was published over here in 2014): Continuation of the Iremonger trilogy. One of the most original stories I have read in years. Includes Carey’s marvellous illustrations of the characters and settings.
The Non-Fiction

I’m only recently coming around to reading non-fiction. These ones really grabbed me this year.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund: I loved this book. It is an absolute blast to read. Conversational, debate-provoking, visually stunning.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison: Insightful essays about fascinating topics from an engaging personal perspective.

Youth: Autobiographical Writings by Wolfgang Koeppen: Post-modern memoir. Fascinating stuff.

The Graphic Novels

I’m also new to graphic storytelling (aside from some Dark Knight Returns etc in university), but these two were supercool and I’ll be seeking out more like them at Happy Harbor.

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll: Stunning art, 5 original dark fairy tales. Good luck sleeping.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins: The title alone should be enough to make you read this.